This November, the world’s leaders will gather in Egypt to address the urgent threat of climate change. COP27
is the 27th international summit intended to unite the world against the intensifying climate crisis—a crisis that, in the words of Egypt’s president, H.E. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, poses “an existential threat that we can only overcome through concerted action and effective implementation.” Yet COP conferences have been criticized for not doing enough. Greta Thunberg called last year’s COP26 “A two week celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah.
Indeed, it has been the world’s youth rather than its politicians that have sounded the alarm. As the UN recognizes
in no uncertain terms, “Young people’s unprecedented mobilization around the world shows the massive power they possess to hold decision-makers accountable. Their message is clear: the older generation has failed, and it is the young who will pay in full—with their very futures.”
This month, dear writers, ahead of COP27, help us raise the voices of young people in this urgent fight. In a piece of personal narrative, tell the world’s leaders gathering in Egypt how climate change impacts you
. How has this crisis changed your environment, your community, your sense of the future? Storytelling, after all, plays a critical role in helping us grasp the emergency through which we are all living, igniting empathy in readers and listeners—and inspiration for action.
What’s a Personal Narrative?
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” Maya Angelou wrote in her famous memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
. A personal narrative is simply this—a story inside of you that needs to see the light of day. Although the personal narrative genre is often defined as an essay, think of it instead as storytelling braided with reflection. We want to be invited into your life, rich with characters and description and conflict and scene, in order to understand how climate change impacts you—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
KNOW THE HEART OF YOUR NARRATIVE.
Oftentimes we don’t know the “main point” when we start writing, and are instead guided by instinct. Something is telling us that a particular experience is significant and worth investigating. It is the process of writing itself that reveals to us the purpose for telling our story. So, although you don’t need to articulate a hypothesis or point or purpose before you start writing, at some stage it’s useful to step back and identify the following elements of your piece:
1) What is powerful about the experience?
2) What has it taught you?
3) How has it changed you?
You may not answer these questions directly in your final piece, but thinking about these questions will infuse your writing with significance.
WRITE TO YOUR AUDIENCE.
Your audience for this narrative is a large, vibrant, supportive community… of mostly strangers! And strangers from across the world, no less, who don’t know what the wildfire smoke in your town smells like, or how it feels to have dust in your eyes, or what the view is out your bedroom window. Make sure to give your readers all the details they need to understand your experience.
FIND A UNIVERSAL THREAD.
Although you are telling a story that is personal to you, consider the elements you can develop to make it resonate with a broader audience. Here are some options to consider:
1) Appeal to your readers through emotion, allowing them to feel a particular experience.
2) Demonstrate how the subject you’re exploring also impacts others.
3) Demand the reader’s attention by expressing the urgency of the issue or problem.
4) Be particular. We naturally relate to a story when we can step inside the shoes of the main character or narrator. Report your story with attention to specific detail and nuance.
5) Show your foibles. Being honest about your worries, insecurities, or mistakes cultivates empathy in readers.
BALANCE SCENE AND SUMMARY.
As you develop your narrative, consider your methods of delivery. Scenes will draw in your reader, build tension, and offer telling details. Usually a personal narrative will revolve around 1-3 key scenes. Summary and reflection are also important. Summary efficiently delivers information (and can set the stage for scenes), while reflection allows you to communicate significance to the readers, building their investment in your experience.
CONSIDER TIME AS FLUID.
Do the events in your personal narrative unfold chronologically (the order in which they happened)? Or do they jump around in time, according to their connection to one another and their significance? Organizing your piece in a sequence that is not chronological can build suspense and a sense of purpose in our writing. For example, you might throw the reader into a dramatic scene in the opening paragraph, and then back up, filling in details to help ground the first scene in context. Jumping into the past is called “flashback” and into the future is called “flashforward”—two techniques to keep in your toolbox.
STEER CLEAR OF DIARY ENTRIES.
Personal narrative is most powerful when it tells a story. Instead of treating this piece like a diary or confessional, focus on all the best elements of narrative—character and conflict, action, reflection and resolution.
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-19
600 – 1,000 words
Is previously published work eligible?
Our monthly competitions are designed to get you writing across a range of genres throughout the year, so we encourage you to write a new work for each competition, but we will also accept work that has been previously shared with a small, local audience (for instance, a piece that was published in a school journal).
How to Enter
Guest Judge: Bill McKibben
- If you haven’t yet, sign up for a free account for Write the World as a young writer here
- Hit the “Start Writing” button above!
- Draft your entry! Hit “Save” to return to it later.
- The first 100 people to submit a draft by October 10 will receive an in-depth review from one of our Expert Reviewers—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals—that you can use to revise your final entry. The “Submit for Expert Review” button will be clickable if slots are still available—click it to have your draft reviewed. (Note: you can still enter the competition if you haven’t received or don’t want to receive an Expert Review!)
- When you are ready to submit your entry, hit the "Submit as Final" button (You can revise, re-publish, and mark any version as your "final submission" until the deadline.
- Only one entry per person, please.
Bill McKibben is an environmentalist, educator, and author. His 1989 book The End of Nature
is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change and has appeared in 24 languages. He’s gone on to write 20 books, and his work appears regularly in periodicals from the New Yorker
to Rolling Stone
. He serves as the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, and Foreign Policy
named him to its inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers. McKibben also founded Third Act, which organizes people over the age of 60 for action on climate and justice, and helped to found 350.org, the first global grassroots climate campaign, which has organized protests on every continent, including Antarctica, for climate action.
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
- Best Entry: $100 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the winning piece, and an interview with the author will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Runner up: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the piece will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Best Peer Review: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the best peer review and an interview with the reviewer will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
- Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge. Selected finalists will also be featured in Assembly, Malala Fund's digital publication and newsletter.
- Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday, October 10 and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
- October 3: Competition Opens
- By October 10: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
- October 14: Reviews returned to Writers
- October 18: Final Submissions Due
- November 4: Winners Announced
Our Novel Writing Competition
opens Monday, November 7th.
Stay tuned for more details!
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